Target Public Housing Crime

Detailed allegations against 29 people indicted this week on drug charges in Wetzel County have not yet been released, but one thing is clear: If the authorities are correct, a public housing complex in New Martinsville was the center of a massive drug ring or perhaps more than one.

In revealing the arrests Thursday of nearly all of those indicted, Wetzel County Prosecuting Attorney Tim Haught said the investigation involved activity at the New Martinsville Villa apartments. The facility works through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to provide residences for low-income people.

If the charges are accurate, they raise a troubling question: How did the complex become a center for illegal drug activity? Obviously, it reached such a scale that the authorities became aware of it and began making arrests. But a lot of people – 29 -allegedly were involved.

This is not the first housing complex in the Ohio Valley to be cited as a center of criminal activity. It is worse in Steubenville, where shootings have occurred at a federally subsidized apartment complex. There, the facility’s private owner, local law enforcement agencies, city officials and HUD are involved in a clean-up campaign.

It would be unfair – as well as unwise – to stereotype all public housing as dens of illegal drug activity. Many of those who live in such facilities are law-abiding citizens eager to rid the premises of crime. Much of the impetus for change in Steubenville came from residents of the apartment complex in question. It may well be that Wetzel County authorities had help from residents of the New Martinsville apartments, too.

Law-abiding residents of public housing where concentrated crime is a problem are its chief victims, with every reason to wish more could be done to prevent it.

That – whether enough is done to prevent what amounts to crime waves in some housing complexes – is the question Ohio Valley residents should be asking. Answers will have to come from building and complex owners, local authorities and the federal government. Clearly, at least in some places, drug rings have been allowed to prosper in public housing complexes and buildings. More needs to be done to keep that from happening.